Preface and Introduction from Sentiments of an American Conscience by Chris Arney:
“It is change, continuing, inevitable change, that is the dominant factor in society today.” (Asimov, My Own View, 1978)(Asimov, My Own View, 1978). Evolution (biological and societal) is significant in that change. So is the dynamics democracy and, in particular, American democracy.
This book is about how we feel, how we understand, how we relate, and what we do to improve ourselves. While all of us have a conscience, our consciences are not all-knowing nor always correct. However, our consciences help us sort out our values and philosophy, ethics and virtue, privacy and liberty, rights and responsibilities, and politics and relationships. This book includes messages to ourselves in the forms of short snippets and longer reflections. These messages from our consciences seek to reveal both our own and our society’s values and concepts relevant to the human experiences of life, especially as it relates to the United States and human society. Some of the concepts discussed are intended to be universal, perhaps revealing helpful information. Other views motivate self-reflection for individuals who specifically relate to the situation that is presented. Some chapters present technical topics in a general way; other sections are informational perspectives on common, everyday topics. At times, the book considers some deeper questions, some of which are: How do we live in this world that we don’t understand? Are there values and principles that can help our understanding and our development as a society? The conscience’s messages may help those who seek to identify the important elements of this complex world by confronting some of the constraints, biases, politics, and myths of our human lives.
The value system presented by this book’s conscience comes from social, cultural and reasoned interpretations of goodness and fairness associated with modern human and American democratic ideals such as life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. However, our consciences often go unnoticed, and when they speak, they do not give us definitive orders and commands, just reminders, perspectives, and suggestions. Consciences speak to both our hearts and minds through feelings (short phrases and reminders), through complete thoughts (quotes, paragraphs), through dreams (stories), and through deeper, more analytic reflections. This book’s conscience, like all other consciences, is affected by biases as described in the Introduction.
The main topics in the book are competitiveness and sports, military and national security, education and politics, mathematics and science, leadership and decision making, freedom and liberty, toleration and empathy, and diversity and cooperation. These are topics where our modern society trends and needs to gain insight.
A supportive tool in this book is a duality or dyad model of perspectives that seeks to convey the many lenses we use to view our roles in society. These perspectives are the tools and measures we will use throughout the book to identify what appeals to some people, what is trending within society, how the world is changing, how our cultures are changing, why education and politics are so complex, what do mathematics and science contribute to society, how sports fits into our lives, and what the military does for the security of our country. The dyad model gives the conscience a vocabulary and methodology to convey its ideas and suggestions.
Author E. B. White, in the newspaper Ellsworth American, wrote: “If the world were merely seductive, that would be easy. If it were merely challenging, that would be no problem. I arise in the morning torn between a desire to improve (or save) the world and a desire to enjoy (or savor) the world. This makes it hard to plan the day.” (White, 1969)(White, 1969). This E.B. White quote resonates with many of us. Much of what White articulated still resonates within American and human society: the freedom and integrity of the press, personal privacy, liberty, environmental protection, a need for a coordinating world organization and government, and too much marketing and imaging. White wrote to many audiences — children, adolescents, and adults. His children’s books, Charlotte’s Web, Stuart Little, and The Trumpet of the Swan, were influential and helped to create the idealistic bias you will often see in this book’s conscience. As all writers and storytellers do, the contents of this book are going to give you a distortion of the real world — it is the conscience’s distortion. That is the best anyone can do because we never have a completely clear lens on anything we see or learn. None of us sees full reality even though most of us believe we do. That is a dilemma. This book’s perspective on some issues is probably not the same as your view. So as you read about an insight or perspective you haven’t considered before, think about its validity compared to your own perspective. This caveat on the imperfect insight of a conscience or another perspective is from former New York City mayor Ed Koch: “If you agree with me on nine out of 12 issues, [I will be happy and think you are a genius]. If you agree with me on 12 out of 12 issues, see a psychiatrist.” (Koch, 2019) (Koch, 2019) This conscience, like your own and all others, hopes you learn from it and use its ideas to help you live a better life, but even the conscience knows it isn’t always right.
We tend to sort people into extremes – e.g., cat-people and dog-people or through Harry Potter’s sorting hat for student personality into four houses of Hogwarts: Gryffindor, Ravenclaw, Hufflepuff, or Slytherin. (Wilson C. , 2017) (Wilson C. , 2017) Duality or binary categorization is one way we choose to view and analyze our world and many of its components — people, groups, systems, and governments. This book uses a dyadic model for 20 different attributes or components of our perceptions to help describe how we use our perspectives to make judgments. These perspectives are not necessarily independent from each other, and that limits the formal use of the model. However, the terminology and relationships of these perspectives on our judgments give us a better understanding of people, society, and issues. The conscience element of this book will use these dyadic terms to add clarity, but not to sort out individuals. The model is organized by some of the human attributes that span two extremes or ends of the spectrum identified. This dyadic view of people works well because people have a natural tendency to relate to the dyads by preferring one pole (extreme view) over the other. The dyadic terms are adjectives or nouns that identify a person. For instance, if we had height as an attribute, our span of extremes would be short and tall.
The 20 attributes in the model, along with their dyadic terms and short definitions, are:
|Attribute||Span of Perspectives||Definition|
|Political philosophy||Liberal — Conservative||View on the size, roles, and influence of the government.|
|Truthfulness||Genuinist — Imager||Contrast of truth’s importance with that of a desired state or image.|
|Life’s difficulty||Complexer — Simplifier||Appraisal of the value of simplicity and complexity in life events.|
|Control||Anarchist — Orderist||Intensity of the need to control others.|
|Economic philosophy||Capitalist — Communist||Degree of support for collective or private property ownership and economic competition.|
|Collectiveness||Socialist — Libertarian||Extent of one’s support for collective decision making and resource sharing|
|Religious Conviction||Atheist — Theist||Extent of belief in God.|
|Caring||Tribalist — Humanitarian||Measure of scope of concern and caring for others|
|Social transformation||Traditionalist — Modernist||Measure of the value of social change|
|Political change||Reactionary — Progressive||Measure of the value of political change.|
|Span of connections||Nationalist — Globalist||Extent of preferred span of political, economic, and social connections and organizations|
|Control of the government||Authoritarian — Democratist||Level of support for people empowered government.|
|Value of others||Fascist — Tolerator||Measure of ones’ ability to endure the actions and thoughts of others.|
|Diversity||Integrationist — Segregationist||Degree of comfort with and value of diversity|
|Devotion to leaders||Loyalist — Contrarian||Measure of intensity of devotion and support for national leadership|
|Value of evidence||Scientist — Mystic||Measure of belief in evidence to define truth and knowledge|
|Military philosophy||Hawk — Dove||Extent of preference for using confrontation to accomplish goals|
|Basis for reasoning||Realist — Idealist||Contrast on kind of evidence used in reasoning about human behavior and decision making|
|Motivation for action||Competitor — Cooperator||Appraisal of the kind of motivation and methodology to accomplish tasks|
|Social class philosophy||Patrician — Egalitarian||Assessment of the value and roles of social class.|
Political party: A division to obtain political power through differing political philosophies such as, Democrat — Republican — Libertarian – Green Party, etc. There are many more than two political parties, and they do not order in any rational way.
Religious denominations: These are similar to political parties in this regard. There are many religions and sects, and they do not order across a duality.
Physical characteristics (e.g., sex and gender): The model does not consider physical characteristics that are not perspectives. Gender, race, ethnicity, height, weight, wealth, social class, hair and skin color, and sexual orientation do not fit within our model because these personal physical characteristics do not produce definitive intellectual perspectives and are immaterial to people’s perspectives.
For each perspective, there are intensities of people’s adherence or belief in the continuum between the extremes. In some sense, a neutral measure is in the middle of the two dyadic extremes. People’s perspectives shift on the spectrum as they mature and experience life. For instance, some people tend to shift many of their perspectives toward the middle ground while others move to one of the extremes for many of the perspectives. This categorization model is not just for people. Many of the perspectives in the aggregate are appropriate for groups, organizations, cities, nations, and governments as well. These perspectives will be used throughout the book to help describe and understand people and components of society to provide a forum for the conscience to use in its role to explain and reflect on values. This model is intended for the understanding of situations within our lives and society and not a precise tool to categorize people, organizations, or systems, although at times specific people are used as examples of a characteristic. The descriptions and analysis in this book will often point out these perspectives and the issues that these dyadic differences create. These terms and categories are not independent, so there are overlaps in definitions and characteristics. However, these categories and terms are appropriate for the purpose of the conscience. With 20 attributes in this model and consequently 40 dyadic terms, the conscience uses the model to describe the people and organizations that make the modern world complex. Italics are used whenever one of the dyadic terms in the model appear in the book.